Who has the vision for VET in Australia?

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Many would agree that Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia needs reinvigorating.  Repeatedly, leaders from across the VET sector have been calling for a long term national vision, mission and framework that identifies priorities.  And if you have been around the VET system for a while, you may have been frustrated about the national approach, (that’s not really national) as states and territories decide how their systems run and funding is allocated.

National VET Policy Forum

At a recent National VET Policy Forum in Melbourne, representatives from peak bodies, the Assistant Minister for VET and Shadow Minister, presented their perspectives, priorities and visions but views are divided.

Stacking peak bodies alongside each other, TAFE Directors Australia (TDA), ACPET and Community Colleges Australia (CCA), wish to support their members with funding and all are calling for a nation VET vision and leadership.  But where would this come from? An independent body perhaps or the VET sector could create our own vision?

Mary Faraone from TAFE Directors Australia pointed out that with a stroke of a pen, things can change enormously overnight with student loans a worse example with unintended consequences and working in VET is frustrating as there is no national vision.

A complete lack of a policy framework, no vision, no understanding of where are we headed to in terms of VET land in Australia with the question posed by Rod Camm of ACPET, are we in a national system or 8-9 systems run by states and territories?  Should the Commonwealth Government takeover VET?  Where is the innovation that is required coming from?

It is obvious on a day to day basis that innovation vs regulation in VET is a battle.  A change to thinking is needed as many providers are non-compliant at audit.  Growth is in non-accredited, competency and skill set enrolments, as Training Packages don’t cater for Industry4.0 capabilities.

Community Colleges, as highlighted by Don Perlgut, support students with diverse backgrounds especially in regional and rural locations working with the most vulnerable learners but capital and infrastructure is needed.

The Hon Karen Andrews MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

The audience was interested to hear The Hon Karen Andrews MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, vision for the VET sector in Australia.  With a key question to answer – does training align with needs of industry with ever increasing examples of mismatch between qualifications and jobs?

Karen talked about A vision for VET – building on the past, securing our future but this failed to inspire… it was a message of, stop being negative, things are not all that bad, just get on with promoting the positive, and she described it as ‘my vision’ not our vision and there was no invitation to work on this together.

Legacy as highlighted by Karen is a key word for VET … clearly the system needs invigorating with experienced people being able to work on a shared vision, purpose and innovation if you invite them in.  An urgent need is the relevance of Training Packages as they are taking far too long to update.

Germany is undertaking a full review of their VET system and we also need to do this for Australia but Karen stated that Australia’s VET system is better than Germany’s – what the!?

Senator Doug Cameron, Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships, says that many of Australia’s qualifications are narrow, not fit for purpose, being developed but with no demand.  He states that Australia’s VET system is not better than Germany’s and it is time to reconsider Training Packages (maybe a curriculum model) the open VET market.

National Vision for VET in Australia

It would be unfair to say that the current visions being put forward for VET in Australia are lackluster, or harp back to the 1970’s, without suggesting an alternative.

The vision is to unlock Australia’s talent by developing a 21st Century Workforce and a World-class VET system.  This is underpinned by a 21st Century Capability Framework, with a match between employer and industry workforce demand, and individuals’ skills and aspirations.

A national approach sees balanced training provision and effective regulation; innovation assessment and training practice; and a (future) jobs first focus on Training Package and training product development.  VET products (including Training Packages and non-accredited training) and programs must be matched with employer, industry and workforce demand.

“Assistant Minister Karen Andrews says we need to focus on the positives in VET and that Australia’s VET system is better than Germany’s which is widely viewed as the best in the world.   In contrast Doug Cameron says that an inquiry will back his view that VET and competency based training is no longer fit for purpose, too narrow, out of step with breadth & depth of skills that individuals need to have resilient careers. Labor rep states that they see two thirds of government funding in VET going to TAFEs under a Shorten Government.

Karen says it is time to build upon the VET legacy but didn’t describe what we are building towards with lack of national vision sighted by the peak VET bodies as a priority issue.  Seems ideological sides have been reinforced when collaboration, innovation & invigoration is what is needed now.  On Germany, they have recently announced a review of their VET system which could be a great opportunity for our countries to work together on world-class VET.”

Australia needs a sense of urgency to become world-class and world-leading as we are slipping on many measures.  Looking to countries such as Canada, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, UK and USA, as well as leaders in Asia Pacific, European Commission, OECD and UNESCO, could inform action research and policy development including a ‘shared vision’ and future proof system.

Increasingly as we experience labour and skills shortages across Australia, enterprise, industry and regional workforce plans should feed into a National Workforce Development Strategy.  Future focus was the name of Australia’s National Strategy back in 2013 and with the USA recently announcing President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order on Workforce Development we need to reignite this conversation.

VET Sector Capability Development

A priority issue for VET in Australia should be capability development linked to Workforce 4.0 requirements as there has been a lack of investment and interest from Governments over the past 10 years.  Core business of teaching, learning and assessment practice, for employer and student satisfaction, sees the need for new VET Practitioner development through to experienced VET Leaders, as there are numerous capability gaps including:

  • Australian Apprenticeships and workplace programs for young people, mature aged people &/or those who are disengaged
  • Digital learning & assessment practices & Industry 4.0 capabilities
  • Industry currency, work placements, simulated vs. real world learning, and VET workforce utilisation in industry
  • Innovation, disruption, entrepreneurship, 21st Century Capabilities & world-class practices
  • International export, capacity and capability development
  • Teaching, learning and assessment practice for employer and student satisfaction
  • VET products (including Training Packages and non-accredited) and programs matched with employer, industry and workforce demand

How could it work?  A national call out for projects to solve evidenced based, identified problems in VET capability matched to key themes.  Funds of $15 million could be provided and make a real difference with an application process on a competitive basis, for the whole country, with 6-12 months allocated for applicants projects.  South Australia could take a leading position with VET sector capability development and in the past SA held this position by managing Reframing the Future (2001 – 2009).

Partners could involve Commonwealth Government, ACPET, AISC, ASQA, CCA, ERTOA, NCVER, SSOs, TDA, States and Territory Governments, industry peaks plus international connections.

Thank you and where to next?

Thanks to Matthew Dale from Audit Express for organising the VET Policy Forum at the VET Development Centre, together with guests Karen Andrews, Doug Cameron, TDA, ACPET and CCA.

Where to next?  Australia needs a new national workforce development strategy and VET sector vision, with more collaboration and international comparisons and this is what I’ll be pitching to Karen Andrews as part of the Skilling Australians Fund innovation.

Looking forward to the Innovative Teaching Practices in VET Conference on 6-7.9.18 in Torquay, Victoria – hope to see you there!

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